I was about seven when I decided I’d be an author. A pipe dream; hardly one that any forward-thinking adult would see fit to encourage. Authors, after all, are poor. Eccentric. Alcoholic. And I wanted to be Enid Blyton, who probably embodied all three.
But anyway, seven-year-olds don’t know anything, so everyone smiled and said, ‘Oh yes, dear’, and went back to their Rubik’s cubes.
I’m thirty-two now. I’ve done a bunch of things. I’ve lived in Ireland, China and India. I’ve taught English in Inner Mongolia and Dharamsala. I’ve won a journalism internship. I’ve trekked the Himalayas. I’ve studied criminology. I’ve qualified as a journalist and a naturopath.
But I’m still not an author, and it bugs me.
For most of the last two years, I’ve worked in an office. I am not good in an office. I fidget. I open the windows (yes, even in winter). I go for walks. I go to the bathroom, the kitchen, the local dairy and anywhere else that doesn’t contain my desk. I eat, constantly.
I do not belong in an office.
Obviously, though, I need to pay for things. To pay for things I need money. Money must be worked for. But here’s another thing about me: I’m a bit crap at things. Most things. I can’t do numbers. Or software. Or instructions. Or irate people [read: most people. Especially children]. I hate talking on the telephone, I hate computer screens and I hate set lunch breaks.
All of these charming attributes mean that many of the jobs my aforementioned skillset could potentially qualify me for are emphatically unsuitable. Not just for me, but for entire offices. Industries, even.
Which is why I’m here.
“Here” is Dalat. It’s a small (by Asian standards) city in the southern highlands of Vietnam. From Thursday to Sunday, Dalat is choked with busloads of tourists from China, Korea and Cambodia seeking cool air and selfies by the lake. The rest of the week is fairly calm. Dull, even. Which is fine, because I’m not here to see the waterfalls or the Crazy House or go canyoning or motorbiking. I’m here because I can live in a simple concrete flat for around $US120 a month, eat for under $US5 a day and have the occasional beer for $US1. And in between, I can get paid to write.
This is digital nomadism.
The term “digital nomad” is a relatively new, and one I only encountered last year. Basically, if you work online from a remote location, you can call yourself a digital nomad. There are DN communities springing up all over the world – mostly in places where the living is cheap, the food is good and the beach is close. Bali and Chiang Mai are popular. Dalat is not. But then, I never did fit the mould.
If you’re like me (new and ignorant and disorganised), getting work is a long, slow process. I started out the only way I thought I could: by casting the net wide. “I’ll write for you! And you, and you! On that, this, and oh yes, that too!”
Online employers don’t care what your job was in the real world. They don’t care what’s on your CV. They do, however, want examples of your work. They want proof of your Instagram following or your “most liked” blog posts. They want you to submit 500 words on topic X, for free, to see if you’re the ‘right fit’. Those are the ones you never hear from again.
You start from the bottom, get the ball rolling. Sometimes the money is great, and sometimes it isn’t. I recently took a job writing short articles that paid $2 per hundred words. That should have been the worst thing about the job, but it wasn’t. The worst thing was I didn’t even get the measly $58 for the few articles I churned out over the week. The employer took my work, thanked me, and vanished into cyberspace. Lesson learned.
I’m now six months into this DN thing. I’ve had lots of fails and a few successes. I’ve been paid anything from $40 for 2000 words to $150 for 1000 words. Most days, I’m waiting for up to six people to get back to me (“Loved your work! There will be more! We’ll be in touch!”). Some of my best gigs, oddly, I’ve found through Facebook. Some of my worst have been through freelancing job sites.
I’m far from accomplished. I have, however, managed to build a portfolio. No, my website-building skills are not great, but it’s a start. And to hell with anyone who criticises the font/images/layout.
I’ve also heeded the advice of holier-than-thou copywriters re finding a niche. After all, I’m a naturopath AND a journalist – so, for now, I’m playing my cards as a natural health writer. Does that sound too cheesy? I don’t care. It’s working for me. Website coming soon.
Yes, I’ve probably taken the long way to get where I am now. I’m still searching for the ‘perfect’ remote job: the one with regular [good] pay, a cool employer, interesting work and oh, a few hours left in the week to allow me to write that goddam book.
I’m not an author yet, but I’m writing. And I’m getting paid to write. It’s not enough to keep me fed and sheltered in New Zealand, but it’s enough to buy all the banh mi and rambutans I want in Dalat. So, for now, I’ll keep blundering along. And anyway, it beats the office.